Litchfield Chamber of Commerce has announced that Jubelt’s Bakery and Restaurant will be named the 2021 Business of the Year during the 73rd annual awards and casino night.
“I was shocked when Beth Cherry (executive director of Litchfield Chamber of Commerce) told us that we were going to receive the Business of the Year award,” said Jeanmarie Jubelt, owner of Jubelt’s Bakery and Restaurant. “There are so many businesses that are deserving of special recognition. Staying in business is not easy, especially over the last year. We are all so appreciative and excited for the awards night. My employees are really looking forward to it.
Jeanmarie is the third generation to take the helm of Jubelt’s Bakery, which was founded in May 1922 by her grandfather, Paul, and his brothers, Fred and Albert. The Jubelt brothers purchased an existing bakery in Mt. Olive, then a heavy mining town, and most of their early business was centered around baking bread. By 1935, the partnership had dissolved, leaving Paul Jubelt with the Mt. Olive location. His son, John, started working in the family business at around 12 years old. Following a stint in the US Army, where he served in Korea, John returned home to take over the bakery. Over the next 40 years, he and his wife, Iris Dawkins, grew the bakery, opening locations in downtown Litchfield, Taylorville, Staunton, Gillespie, Carlinville, Jerseyville, Lincoln and even Springfield. They also expanded into the wholesale business, supplying baked goods to independent grocers.
The couple was the force behind expanding the Litchfield bakery into a restaurant. It was a subtle shift that began with prepackaged sandwiches and would eventually be the saving grace of the family business. They moved on from the vending machine style items to offer freshly made sandwiches, salads and soups in all of their stores. Jeanmarie’s older brother, Lance, joined their parents at Jubelt’s in 1977, and they started looking for a larger location. They bought their current building on Route 66 in 1982 and really began focusing on growing the restaurant.
“My dad used to say that if we hadn’t gotten into the restaurant business we wouldn’t be here today,” Jeanmarie stated. “Small towns started to decline in the 1980’s and family run bakeries folded right along with them. The only reason we made it through was because we started moving more into the food service industry”
It was in the early 2000’s that Jeanmarie, then a financial advisor living in Chicago, returned home to help her father and brother with the bakery - both in declining health. After their deaths, Jeanmarie found herself with some tough choices to make, including closing all of the Jubelt’s bakeries with the exception of the Litchfield location.
“My mom thought that I should close the business but I didn’t want it to end that way” stated Jeanmarie. “I didn’t take a day off for three years after I took over but things gradually got better and the business started growing.”
The grit and determination Jeanmarie developed from having struggled so much to turn her family’s business around came in useful during the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent state ordered shut downs.
“I was watching the pandemic from the beginning so when the virus reached the US, I started talking to my staff about what it would look like if we had to close our dining room,” Jeanmarie said.“I happened to have ‘Meet the Press’ on as I was getting ready to leave the house one day and Chuck Todd was interviewing Governor Pritzker; it was like I could see him thinking aloud and I knew he was going to shut us down.”
Jeanmarie went on to explain that Jubelt’s had implemented online ordering about three months before state mandated shutdowns and she had begun heavily advertising the service in anticipation of the COVID-19 virus spreading to the area. However, it wasn’t until she was doing some personal shopping a few weeks before the shutdowns that she got the idea that would allow her to maintain the staff and keep Jubelt’s profitable throughout the pandemic.
“I was in Walmart shopping and I noticed that they were out of a lot of things. I thought to myself, ‘we have most of this stuff at the restaurant,”’ Jeanmarie explained. “I went back and started brainstorming with my kitchen staff and we decided that we were going to sell groceries.”
Jubelt’s Restaurant and Bakery’s staff got to work selling groceries and deli items like chicken salad, potato salad and pasta salad, meats and cheeses. They also offered ready-to-go entrees like pulled pork, Italian beef, casseroles, chicken penne and ziti that customers could pick up along with a salad and discount cookies.
“People were still eating so it was really just a matter of distribution,” stated Jeanmarie. “Our customers really appreciated being able to buy their groceries here. Especially those that were older and afraid to go out.”
Jeanmarie reported that throughout the last year their sales only fell by 25 percent. She was also able to keep most of her staff during the shutdowns. Throughout all of the obstacles Jubelt’s has undergone, serving their customers has always been their top priority. Jeanmarie is constantly studying cultural trends in an effort to provide the products her customer base wants. A few recent additions include espresso drinks, hand-dipped ice cream, Lotus energy drinks and a new patio with outdoor seating options. She hopes to add vegan options in the future.
“We just come in every day and try to be a good company and asset to the community” Jeanmarie concluded. “Our customers have kept us going throughout all of the obstacles that have come our way over the years. They are the people we are trying to serve and it feels really nice to know they value us as well. This award is the icing on top of the cake.”